CU vs. USC Preview: “T.I.P.S.” for Buffs’ bid to become a player in the Pac-12 South Race

Related … If you prefer your predictions verbally, “CU at the Game Podcast: ‘T.I.P.S.’ for CU at USC” can be found at Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or pretty much wherever you download your favorites. Or, if you would prefer, you can listen to the podcast here.

The over/under on how many times this week you will read/hear that Colorado has never beaten USC: 14.

Just so happens, that’s the same number of times the Buffs have taken the field opposite the Trojans … and come up empty.

Some of those 14 defeats were not particularly close. When Colorado first joined the Pac-12, the CU program was at an ebb, allowing USC quarterbacks to routinely set school records against the Buffs. Scores like 42-17, 50-6, 47-29, and 56-28 were posted. It was so bad, in fact, that after the 42-17 drubbing in 2011, when USC quarterback Matt Barkley threw for a (then) school-record six touchdowns, that my Essay for the game was entitled, “I Feel Bad That I don’t Feel Worse“.

In the latter half of the 2010’s, however, CU got closer to that elusive first victory. The Buffs have been within four points three of the past five years, including the agonizing 35-31 loss in Boulder last fall.

With a win, the sky will be the limit for the 2020 Buffs under first-year head coach Karl Dorrell.

But that first win against the Trojans has proved elusive …

This Week’s “T.I.P.S” for CU at No. 19 USC – Saturday, 1:30 p.m., MT, ABC

T – Talent 

The USC lives and dies on the arm of its sometimes erratic quarterback, Kedon Slovis. When Slovis is on, the Trojan offense is potent. When Slovis is merely adequate, the Trojans are still hard to beat.

Slovis opened his 2020 season by rallying the Trojans to victories over Arizona State and Arizona. In each game, the USC offense slogged its way to only two touchdowns in the first 56 minutes of each contest, before coming to life to score two touchdowns in the final four minutes of each game to pull out the win. Had it not been for Slovis and his arm – throwing four touchdown passes in less than eight minutes of game clock – USC could have started the season 0-2. Such a start would have put USC head coach, Clay Helton, squarely on the hot seat … and given national pundits a reason not to list CU as double-digit underdogs.

Instead, USC defeated both Arizona schools, taking a 2-0 record into Rice-Eccles Stadium last Saturday night. The Trojans prevailed, taking advantage of five Utah turnovers to defeat the Utes, 33-17. Whether it was the cold or a stout Utah defense, Slovis was merely efficient, completing 24-of-35 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns.

The possibility of Slovis being “on” is what should worry the Buff Nation the most. Colorado’s most vulnerable unit is its defensive secondary, and the most potent unit on the USC side of the ball is its receiving corps.

Pick your poison … Amon-Ra St. Brown leads the team, with 19 receptions for 266 yards in the first three games of the season, followed closely by Drake London (15 catches for 238 yards), Tyler Vaughns (18 catches for 185 yards) and Bru McCoy (13 catches for 142 yards). If you focus all of your attention on the wideouts, Slovis will throw to tight end Erik Krommenhoek, who already has two touchdown receptions on the young season.

The rushing attack is a three-headed monster, with Markese Stepp, Vavae Malepeai, and Stephen Carr each with over 100 yards rushing in USC’s 3-0 start … with each of them also already having two rushing touchdowns.

While the USC offense was efficient (if not spectacular) against Utah, the USC defense was impressive. As noted, the Trojans forced five turnovers out of the Utes, and posted a shutout in the second half. The Trojans knocked Utah starting quarterback Cameron Rising out of the game in the first quarter, then harassed the backup, Jake Bentley, the remainder of the night with a series of blitzes. Bentley threw for only 171 yards on the night, was picked off twice, and was sacked on two other occasions.

Lest you think that USC was able to tee off on a wide-eyed freshman quarterback .. Jake Bentley threw for over 7,500 yards and over 50 touchdowns while a starter at South Carolina before transferring to Utah.

This just in … CU quarterback Sam Noyer doesn’t have 7,500 collegiate passing yards to his credit, nor has he thrown over 50 touchdown passes.

Any guesses what the game plan will be for the USC defense on Saturday?

I – Intangibles 

In Hoosiersone of the best sports movies ever! – coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) gave a pre-game pep talk to his team before they took the floor for their state semi-final game …

There’s a, um tradition in tournament play- not talk about the next step until you’ve climbed the one in front of you. I’m sure going to the state finals is beyond your wildest dreams, so let’s just keep it right there.

Karl Dorrell could give a similar speech to the Buffs in the bowels of the Coliseum on Saturday.

This week, the Pac-12 South division standings are as follows:

  • USC … 3-0
  • Colorado … 2-0
  • UCLA … 1-2
  • Arizona State … 0-1
  • Utah … 0-1
  • Arizona … 0-2

Now, it doesn’t take a degree in differential calculus to see that the Buffs control their own destiny in the Pac-12 South division race. A win over USC, and CU can win the division with victories on the road against Arizona and at home against Utah.

That dream, however, is so far beyond what any die hard Buff fan could have expected even two weeks ago, that we should leave talk of titles to the Trojan fanbase. We shouldn’t talk about it. Not even think about it.

And hope the Buffs are doing the same.

P – Preparation / Schedule

You could forgive the Trojans for feeling just a little bit snake-bitten when it comes to how the 2020 schedule has played out.

At first, it looked as if USC was given a break by the schedule makers, with the Trojans, in addition to playing their five division rivals, were assigned a game against Washington State – and a home game at that – as their cross-over game. No Oregon on the schedule, no Washington to contend with … just a home game against a Washington State team breaking in a new coach.

For Trojan fans – and for Pac-12 fans hoping that the conference could be given some sense of relevancy in the College Football Playoff race – this was an ideal setup.

Instead, USC has had to face a series of opponents all lined up to give the Trojans their best shot. As odd as it may sound, this weekend – Thanksgiving weekend – will represent the first game USC has played against a team which has already played a game.

First, there was the opener against Arizona State. The Sun Devils, the heir apparent to the Pac-12 South crown should the Trojans falter, had all of their “Fall Camp” to prepare for their “Super Bowl” matchup against USC.

Up next came Arizona. The Wildcats sat out the first weekend, missing their opener against Utah due to positive COVID tests, giving them two weeks to prepare for their opener against USC.

Up next came Utah. The Utes missed not only their first game against Arizona, but also failed to make their trip to Pasadena for their Week Two game against UCLA. So, while the Trojans were struggling to get out of Tucson with a victory, the Utes were game-planning for the Trojans.

Which brings us to Colorado. The Buffs were supposed to host Arizona State Saturday night. Instead, they were able to sit home and watch the USC/Utah game unfold on television. With the game against the Sun Devils canceled early last week, and with a replacement game never seriously looking like a reality, the Buff coaches will have had the ability to game plan for the Trojans for almost two full weeks.

The Trojans were able to take the best shots of Arizona State, Arizona, and Utah – all three of whom were able to get extra time to prepare for their games against USC.

The Buffs now become the fourth straight Trojan opponent with extra time to prepare.

Fourth time the charm?

S – Statistics 

— Turnover margin is always important. The Buffs used four turnovers to stake themselves to an insurmountable lead against UCLA, while USC used five Utah turnovers to keep the Utes from mounting a serious challenge. Colorado is currently tied for second in the nation in turnover margin (+2.00/game), while USC is tied for 11th nationally (+1.00/game);

— This is the 14th time Colorado has played USC since the advent of the AP poll in the late 1930’s. In the previous 13 meetings, USC has been ranked nine times (Colorado three times). When the teams met in 1963 (the first game of Eddie Crowder’s coaching career at CU), USC was the No. 1 team in the nation. The Trojans got out of Boulder, but just barely, posting a 14-0 win over the Buffs;

— Both teams need to a better job keeping the officials from being busy. Colorado is 116th in the nation in penalty yards per game (75.5), while USC is not much better (109th; 72.67 yds/game);

— The game could be an offensive showcase. Colorado is 17th in the nation in total offense (478.5 yds/game), while USC is 21st (470.3 yds/game). The Buffs are 12th nationally in scoring offense (41.5 pts/game), while the Trojans are 45th (31.7 pts/game);

— Another stat which could be crucial for the Buffs to have a chance at an upset (it certainly helped in the Stanford game). Colorado is tied for the nation’s lead in red zone offense, scoring on all 10 opportunities (nine touchdowns). USC, meanwhile, is tied for 101st in the nation, converting just 75% of its red zone opportunities into points on the scoreboard.

Prediction … There’s much to like about CU’s matchup against USC … The Buffs have had extra time to prepare … The Trojans have not looked like world-beaters in their first three games … Colorado, under Karl Dorrell, has been playing with a renewed sense of confidence, and has not shaken by adversity.

On the other side of the coin, there is history.

Colorado is 0-14 all-time against USC (there, now you’ve seen it twice. You are well on your way to the “over”). The Buffs have played well in the trenches the first two weeks, but the Trojans are different beast from the Bruins and the Cardinal. There is high-caliber talent everywhere in the lineup, talent which can, when necessary, overcome poor coaching (witness the two comeback wins over Arizona State and Arizona).

The sample size from other games played to date remains too small to be definitive, but the results are trending positively for Colorado. UCLA has looked great the past two weeks, smoking Cal and losing by only three points – on the road, with a backup quarterback – to Oregon. Meanwhile, the only USC opponent to play another game was Arizona, which got smoked by Washington on Saturday night.

Does CU’s victory over UCLA look more as a “quality win”? Does Arizona’s return to (poor) form mean that USC’s come-from-behind win over the Wildcats should be discounted, a harbinger of what is possible for the Buffs?

At the end of the day, my two greatest fears about this game are:

1) That the Buff secondary, against a good quarterback and an outstanding receiving corps, can be exposed. We saw it in the UCLA game, and, to a lesser extent, at the end of the Stanford game. The Buff defense is vulnerable to big plays … and USC has a big play offense; and

2) That confidence/swagger/arrogance is a real factor in college football. The game is as much mental as it is physical (which is why the game at this level is so unpredictable). In the CU/USC game, should the Buffs stake themselves to an early lead, or even stay close, the mental factor could kick in … the Buffs know they have (almost) blown leads, while the Trojans know they can overcome late deficits.

I would love to pick the Buffs for the third straight game – and be right a third straight time.

But I’m just not seeing it.

The Buffs’ first-ever victory against the Trojans is coming … but perhaps not until next fall in Boulder.

USC 33, Colorado 24

—–

 

16 Replies to ““T.I.P.S.” for CU at USC”

  1. Well, with the opponent now being SDSU and not knowing much about them other than coming from the MWC and being 3-2, and that they’ve been preparing all week for CU. Closer than I’d like but GO BUFFS!!!! 38-27

  2. The player comments from a few recent interviews leave the impression that this contest has their full attention. It would be great if the tide could be turned with a team win this week after a few recent late game losses to USC. Once the tide has been turned with a victory, putting the USC game date in maroon/cardinal on calendars, rather than black, would be a nice touch going forward. As Coach McCartney said from the time of his arrival in Boulder, “to be the best, you have to beat the best,…”

  3. USC squeaked by in two games and I don’t feel that the win versus Utah was as convincing as the score indicated. As Stuart shared, I feel the mental aspect is key. If the Buffs stay consistently focused and aggressive for all 4 quarters following the even keel approach of their head coach, the Buffs will win and USC’s number will be up. CU 35 USC 34

  4. Now that USC has a player who testing positive for COVID-19, the biggest question is if CU vs. USC really happens on Saturday! 50 / 50 chance the Buffs end up playing Washington (or someone else) this weekend.

    That said, the Buffs need the following to win:
    1. Ball control on offense – need the run game (backs and Noyer) to be efficient and control the ball, keep it out of USC’s hands.
    2. Defense needs to PRESSURE Slovis relentlessly. He’s beatable when under pressure, and we can force some turnovers. If we can get consistent pressure all game, that will neutralize the USC QB.
    3. Turnovers – both teams have great turnover stats. Buffs need to win the turnover battle by at least 2 more takeaways vs. giveaways.

    If the Buffs can do the above, I see CU 34, USC 28. Go Buffs!

  5. I am predicting a win, it in typical 2020 Buffs fashion it will be close but the Buffs will hold on to their late lead. Here is why:

    1. Slovis is a great quarterback when he is not pressured or when he can read the pre-snap blitz. The film is pretty evident on this. I predict that Summers has caught this and will rush 4-5 on most downs. Sami and Johnson will push the pocket enough to make Slovis uncomfortable and he will have a difficult day.
    2. When Slovis misses he tends to miss bad, making pass interference penalties easier to avoid.
    3. CU will make USC 1 dimensional. They will have under a 100 yards rushing.
    4. Noyer gets the ball out of his hands really quickly. I watched the other USC games and all of the qb’s were more like Montez holding the ball for too long.
    5. USC likes to run man coverage. Man struggles versus a running qb becuase they turn their back to the qb. I suspect Noyer is going to have a nice day running the ball.
    6. I think there is a good chance CU’s running game is going to do ok against USC. The blocking scheme combined with Brussard’s ability to make the first guy miss makes me think it is going to work. This one is going to depend on Noyer hitting some throws to ensure that USC does not always have 8 in the box and we continue to get great blocking from our tight ends. If the run game is working I suspect the Buffs will slow the game way down.
    7. I think that USC’s db’s are really talented but I believe there is a good chance that Chiv and Dorrell are able to scheme up some ways to get receivers open. USC has always been talented but I never felt they were disciplined under Helton. I think we can find the chinks in their armor.

    CU 31. USC 27, and in the spirit of 2020 an onside kick recovery by CU secures the win……

    1. Heavy Shroooooooooms intake by you.

      I’m in
      38-31 Buffs.

      Note: The Buffs finally have real coaches at all positions. Especially at qb and the oline. The db coaches are struggling with the inexperience and youth But they are good coaches. And the HC is the best there has been since Barnett. I believe he is the vaccine that has been needed. Shoot it up for the third time. Go Buffs

  6. Tough matchup for us, no doubt. USC was more physical on the line/in the box than Utah, who of course pride themselves on winning that battle. Huge challenge for the entire offensive unit to not only score points but be able to sustain drives to keep the D off the field.
    Defensively expect a ton of zone and need to keep USC out of the endzone, where the USCAirRaid is having a bit of a problem in tight goaline situations.

      1. Good call…very much looking forward to seeing our OL this weekend. If they can maintain the level of play from the initial two games…then I think we compete for the South not only this year, but next as well.

  7. We all know that stats from two games isn’t a large population to make it a guarantee, but when you look at both teams stats the Buffs look great on offense & compare well with USC. The Buff go into this game needing to clean up points & yards against & they had extra time to work on that & heal.
    Can they go into this game with big improvement there?

    During a crazy year can a calm KD lead his Buffs to CU’s first victory over USC? UCLA’s big play makers almost staged a comeback against CU & USC (as noted by Stuart) has big play makers & can over come poor coaching. But, they haven’t been mistake free & KD & staff will be working on those mistakes while improving the Buffs execution, is two weeks enough? Is USC flawed enough that the Buffs can pull off the upset?

    I’m going to be positive & say this is a win in a higher scoring game like the Buffs last two, Buffs 34 – USC 30.

  8. For this game, I think Coach Dorrell will be the X factor. He and his staff will put together a game plan that will stifle the Trojans early on and we will get 2 turnovers, an interception and fumble recovery in the second half that will lead to CU points!!!

    ################################ GO MIGHTY BUFFS#################################

    CU 34 USC 28

  9. Buff fans like to think we started the corn slide to irrelevancy and the Buffs were the major factor in getting their coaches fired.
    Now that we are in a different conference its high time to jumpstart that process again with the conference heavy weight. Helton’s seat is a shaky 3 legged stool and if the Buffs win you can bet he will have to climb back on the carousel.
    I would also like to add you, Stu, the all the pundits, Vegas and other “predicters” who keep short shifting the Buffs:)
    Alas I know the odds are against it. I fear the Buff’s ability to outscore the competition is going to lose a bit of an edge without Brady on the field.
    Have a bad day Slovis

  10. Here’s to adding “CU defeating SC” to the seemingly endless number of things that comprise the “new normal”. I shall be rooting hard from the great state of New Jersey – loving the fact that I’ll be able to watch the Buffs on TV in the daytime (well, at least at kickoff).

    Happy and safe Thanksgiving to all! Go Buffs!

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